Chinese and NBA basketball star Yao Ming, who carried the Chinese flag in Friday's opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympic Games, has accepted an invitation from the UN Environment Programme to become its first Environmental Champion.
"I am delighted and greatly honored to accept the UN Environment Programme's offer to become their first ever Environmental Champion," said Yao.
"In my role as Environmental Champion, I will work with governments, the private sector and the public to promote good and effective management of our environment so we can preserve the planet for future generations," he said.
The five-time NBA All Star plays center for the Houston Rockets, having joined the team in 2002, and he has played on the Chinese National Team since the age of 18.
Standing 7'6" (2.29m) tall, Yao is the tallest player in the NBA. He is a national icon in China and carried the Olympic Flame into Tiananmen Square on August 6, as well as being his country's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.
"I welcome Yao Ming to our team," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who is in Beijing for the Olympic Games. "As one of the most high profile athletes in these Games and with a fan base of millions across the world, I am sure he can help us raise public awareness on the environment and climate change issues."
Yao said he will work with young people around the world and try to inspire them to plant trees, use energy efficient light bulbs, harvest rainwater and to become environmental champions in their own communities.
The affection the Yao has for young people was evident at the opening ceremony last night as he led the Chinese athletes around the National Stadium together with nine-year-old Lin Hao, a pupil from the area of China's Sichuan province hit by an earthquake who helped to rescue his classmates from the rubble of their school.
After the Sichuan earthquake, Yao donated $2 million dollars to relief work, and created a foundation to help rebuild schools destroyed in the quake.
"As a sportsman," Yao said, "I believe sport has a major role to play in promoting environmental issues."